Margins matter. The more Comfort Systems USA (NYS: FIX) keeps of each buck it earns in revenue, the more money it has to invest in growth, fund new strategic plans, or (gasp!) distribute to shareholders. Healthy margins often separate pretenders from the best stocks in the market. That's why we check up on margins at least once a quarter in this series. I'm looking for the absolute numbers, so I can compare them to current and potential competitors, and any trend that may tell me how strong Comfort Systems USA's competitive position could be.
Here's the current margin snapshot for Comfort Systems USA over the trailing 12 months: Gross margin is 15.6%, while operating margin is 1.6% and net margin is 1.0%.
Unfortunately, a look at the most recent numbers doesn't tell us much about where Comfort Systems USA has been, or where it's going. A company with rising gross and operating margins often fuels its growth by increasing demand for its products. If it sells more units while keeping costs in check, its profitability increases. Conversely, a company with gross margins that inch downward over time is often losing out to competition, and possibly engaging in a race to the bottom on prices. If it can't make up for this problem by cutting costs -- and most companies can't -- then both the business and its shares face a decidedly bleak outlook.
Of course, over the short term, the kind of economic shocks we recently experienced can drastically affect a company's profitability. That's why I like to look at five fiscal years' worth of margins, along with the results for the trailing 12 months, the last fiscal year, and last fiscal quarter (LFQ). You can't always reach a hard conclusion about your company's health, but you can better understand what to expect, and what to watch.
Here's the margin picture for Comfort Systems USA over the past few years.
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Dollar amounts in millions. FY = fiscal year. TTM = trailing 12 months.
Because of seasonality in some businesses, the numbers for the last period on the right -- the TTM figures -- aren't always comparable to the FY results preceding them. Here's how the stats break down:
Over the past five years, gross margin peaked at 20.0% and averaged 17.6%. Operating margin peaked at 6.0% and averaged 3.3%. Net margin peaked at 3.8% and averaged 1.2%.
TTM gross margin is 15.6%, 200 basis points worse than the five-year average. TTM operating margin is 1.6%, 170 basis points worse than the five-year average. TTM net margin is 1.0%, 20 basis points worse than the five-year average.
With recent TTM operating margins below historical averages, Comfort Systems USA has some work to do.
If you're interested in companies like Comfort Systems USA, you might want to check out the jaw-dropping technology that's about to put 100 million Chinese factory workers out on the street - and the 3 companies that control it. We'll tell you all about them in "The Future is Made in America." Click here for instant access to this free report.
Add Comfort Systems USA to My Watchlist.
The article Here's 1 Reason Comfort Systems USA Looks Weak originally appeared on Fool.com.
Seth Jayson had no position in any company mentioned here at the time of publication. You can view his stock holdings here. He is co-advisor ofMotley Fool Hidden Gems, which provides new small-cap ideas every month, backed by a real-money portfolio. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
Copyright © 1995 - 2013 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.